(Photo by samuelrichards.com.au)
The moment when physicists are rejoicing the first glimpse of a Higgs boson is probably an appropriate time to share an anecdote from my days in CERN. I worked there as a trainee in 1997, when they had started to build the ATLAS detector (I wrote some pieces of realtime 3D software for the ATLAS project document management system).
Before I arrived in CERN, there had been a big crisis. The particles had stopped appearing in the detectors. After a few days the cause for this was found: a Carlsberg can that had been placed (or forgotten?) inside the detector tunnel. Every time the accelerator has to be closed for maintenance, the amount of people in the CERN cafeterias triples. Most of the people don’t look very tanned.
My workplace was the brand new ATLAS building that had a cylinder shape and the corridors inside were circular. The walls were gray, there were no posters on the wall or any other visible details that would help one to figure out one’s location. Walking around the corridors felt like being inside a never ending loop.
After the Swiss National Day celebrations, I placed a colourful, ball-shaped paper lamp to hang above my desk. A week later people were using the ball as location marker – ‘is your office left or right from the ball?’.
My plan was that on my last day in CERN, I would make a small prank and change the location of the ball. On that day I was just too busy and did not manage to do this, and this tiny failure kept bothering me for years. But today I can finally let go of this! Since maybe, if I would have done my prank, maybe some renowned physicist would not have found his/her office that day and maybe, just maybe, a piece of important research would have failed, and maybe, just maybe, we would not be celebrating the discovery of Higgs boson today!